By Ellson Quismorio
Opposition congressman, Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate on Thursday backed the call of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights defenders for the Philippine government to end the attacks against such defenders and to recognize their work instead.
“We laud the Special Rapporteur for making this bold message asking the government to immediately end all forms of violations against human rights defenders, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances,” said Zarate, a member of the militant Makabayan bloc.
“We hope that the Duterte administration would indeed stop the attacks on human rights defenders,” he stressed.
The call was contained in the World Report–the first global survey on the situation of human rights defenders, which also identified the progress and challenges that need to be addressed in relation to human rights and freedom.
“The report shows the real human rights situation in the Philippines and the dangers human rights defenders face because of the policies and pronouncements of the Duterte administration,” Zarate said.
The solon couldn’t help but mention the ordeal that was experienced by his Makabayan colleagues, former ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo at the hands of law enforcers.
“One glaring example is the illegal arrest of Ka Satur Ocampo, Rep. France Castro and other Talaingod 18 members, who rescued lumad students and school staff from harassment of the paramilitary forces of the 56th IB (Infantry Battalion) but were the ones apprehended and vilified by the police and the AFP,” he said.
The 14 minors rescued were said to be students of Salugpungan Learning Center, a school for Lumad children.
Ocampo and Castro were charged with kidnapping and human trafficking. They have since posted a total bail of P1.45 million.
“The report said that Duterte has fostered very harmful rhetoric against human rights defenders labeling them ‘anti-nation,’ ‘protectors of drug lords,’ ‘communists,’ ‘terrorists’ and others. This rhetoric has in fact killed hundreds of human rights activists and is bound to intensify with President Duterte’s latest tirade against the NPA (New People’s Army) rebels,” Zarate said.
“The UN as well as both international and local organizations should be more vigilant in monitoring and exposing the attacks against human rights defenders in the country and be more pro-active in countering it,” concluded Zarate.